How to Read a Nutrition Label - Seeing Beyond Packaging & Advertising
“GREAT SOURCE OF PROTEIN!”
“7 G OF PROTEIN PER SERVING!”
There are lots and lots of claims surrounding the importance of this macronutrient as it relates to health and lean muscle tissue. So much so, that companies that produce health-related snacks and food products are slapping “protein packed” or “great source of protein” on every item they sell. Well, well, well. Let’s break this down shall we.
IMPORTANCE OF PROTEIN
First off, is protein really that important? Simple answer, yes. The majority of individuals are likely not receiving a sufficient intake of protein on a daily basis. Protein not only acts as a building block of muscle, but bones, cartilage, skin, and blood as well. If you are regularly strength training, you should be having at least .8 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 150 lbs, that’s about 120 g of protein a day. This may seem daunting, but once you add things together it really is quite maintainable.
BREAKING DOWN NUTRITION LABELS
Okay, now let’s dive into the foods that are claimed to be protein sources. There are TONS of snack products (bars, cereals, cookies, etc.) that are advertised as fantastic sources of protein. This is where knowing how to read a nutrition label comes in handy, and it really is quite simple.
Remember, there are 3 macronutrients, fat, carbohydrates, and protein. In order to better understand what you’re eating, you have to be able to identify the PRIMARY macronutrient source that a food is providing. There are plenty of carbohydrate sources that ALSO have a good amount of protein. Or fat sources that ALSO have a good amount of protein. But at the core of it, you have to take a food for what it’s HIGHEST macronutrient source is.
Let’s take a very common example. Peanut butter. Nuts/nut butters are commonly labeled as a high protein snack.
Peanut butter really is delicious. And hey! It’s got 7g of protein per serving, it must be healthy! In moderation peanut butter is perfectly fine to eat on a regular basis. But let’s keep it real on what it is you’re putting into your body. Break down the nutrition label. 16 g of fat, 8 g of carbs, and 7 g of protein. This is primarily a FAT source that happens to have some protein as well. Look at this protein as an added bonus. Don’t go shoveling in 6 tablespoons a day! It even has more carbs than protein. But you don’t see that on the packaging, do you?
Let’s take another example. One of these protein cookie mumbo jumbos.
Arlighty, let’s break this down again. First off, note the serving sizes. You want to look at the whole package because that’s likely what’s going to go down. 17 g of fat, 56 g of carbs, and 16 g of protein. This is a CARBOHYDRATE sources that has a pretty high amount of both protein and fat. 26 grams of sugar...this is basically candy with protein!
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU
There's absolutely nothing wrong with eating either of these things, but just understand what they really are. Lentils and black beans are another great example. Really healthy foods with a lot of great benefits. These are CARBS that have a good amount of protein as an added benefit. 1 cup of lentils has about 40 g of carbs, and 18 g of protein. Black beans around the same.
It’s been covered in another blog, but the main sources of protein (i.e. where protein is the highest value in grams between the three macronutrients) are as follows: lean cuts of meat, poultry, fish, egg whites, protein powder, greek yogurt, tofu, tempeh, and seitan. These really are your main choices when it comes to protein sources.
All this is meant to do is to help you understand food a little better. Know what you’re eating so you can be more in touch with what’s entering your body. All macronutrients are important and have their functions in keeping your body healthy and strong, but just don’t be fooled by a sticker on a jar of peanut butter into thinking your protein intake is where it needs to be.